Mean Streets (1973)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Mean Streets</strong> (1973)

(On VHS, June 2001) Can’t remember a lot of things about Mean Streets even scant days after seeing it. I recall a gallery of younger well-known actors, including Robert de Niro. I certainly do recall a nude scene. I have jumbled memories of various violent acts. There are a few murders. There’s also a conclusion that takes the easiest way out, killing all characters after a preposterous coincidence that smacks more of screenwriter laziness than organic resolution (how else to explain a car finding another among all other car leaving New York at that moment?) Oh well. Scorsese-watchers will probably recognize elements from about half of all his later films in this one. Enjoy the references, people, because there isn’t much else. Practice makes perfect, and fortunately, this whiz-kid would go on to a few other better things…

(Second viewing, On Cable TV, June 2019) Disregard my previous review—I’m now nearly twenty years older, have seen almost all of Scorsese’s movies and can now recognize an influential mob movie when I see one. This being said, I may now like Mean Streets but it doesn’t mean I love it: as a naturalistic look at low-level New York mobsters as they go along their business, it works better as a prototype for later Scorsese movies. Episodic, rambling and low-stakes, Mean Streets is definitely steeped into early-seventies New Hollywood grimy conventions. The musical choice is terrific, there’s an “are you calling me a mook?” sequence that anticipates a later Joe Pesci scene, and we can also recognize Scorsese’s fondness for lengthy tracking shots. (Mama Scorsese even has a cameo.)  The editing is tight, the actors handled well (it is fun to see Harvey Keitel as a dashing young man, not so much fun to see Robert de Niro as a psychopathic lowlife) and the religious symbolism as present as ever. Having a real ending to Mean Streets would help it, but not as much as we’d think at first given the disjointed nature of the film’s plotting.

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